Bracewell delighted despite time running out
Hampshire 297 (Balcombe 65*, Tomlinson 51, Norwell 4-103) and 213 for 6 (Vince 63, Ervine 57*) drew with Gloucestershire 504 for 8 dec (W Gidman 119, Tavare 86, Cockbain 61, Marshall 56)
It is to Gloucestershire's credit that they pushed Hampshire so close. On a fourth day which started with a team still batting in their first innings, their approach at least allowed for specks of excitement.
In the end, it was time that defeated them. In control for much of the game, they gave themselves every chance of converting their good work and could leave more than satisfied with the cricket they have played. In a week of back-slapping declarations, they very nearly contributed one of their own.
For director of cricket John Bracewell, it was a fairly easy decision to make. "In the end, if we got it right, 80 overs [to bowl at Hampshire] was the number," he said. "It was just a matter of how far we could get ahead."
It was a fine effort from Gloucestershire, who have an injury list that includes their talismanic captain Michael Klinger. Truth be told, they have arguably not been able to field a side that you could, without doubt, label their "best XI". According to Bracewell, displays like today merely show the character of his squad.
"We've been on the other end of these sorts of games where we're the ones having to bat ourselves out of trouble in the second innings. It's such a good feeling to have batted ourselves into a point of superiority in the first innings. There in lay the difference - it gives us a lot of confidence. We had a lot of character in store in drawing some big games over the last month or so. "
Gloucestershire wasted no time in putting bat to ball, adding 58 runs in 14 overs, before declaring with a first innings lead of 207. Will Gidman was removed by James Tomlinson early on, before Adam Rouse and Benny Howell found the rope often enough to take the visitors score past 500.
Going into lunch, things looked promising for them. David Payne had Michael Carberry caught behind before Will Gidman took the valuable wicket of Will Smith, who has been a rock at No. 3, with a ball that cramped him for room and then seemed to get big on him.
Jimmy Adams followed soon after lunch when he was deemed to have given a catch to bat-pad off the bowling of Tom Smith. He was less than impressed, lingering and then walking off and taking his frustration out on his gloves when he stepped over the boundary.
After tea James Vince, having looked assured and compact in defense, edged Smith through to Rouse. It was the wicket that alerted us to the presence of a crowd; the collective gasps having locals thinking the unthinkable - a first defeat of the season, by an innings, no less.
The gasps were just as audible when, with 11.4 overs of play left, Howell bowled Adam Wheater through the gate for the sixth wicket. By then, Sean Ervine had steadied things at the other end with a strutting half-century. Calm and composed, with the air of a bouncer who knows you are just not getting in, his reverse-sweep for four to take him to 52 was a good a sign as any that Hampshire had little to worry about.
Adams echoed those sentiments at stumps. This match was their game in hand of Worcestershire and a win would have seen them jump above them and back into first. They remain second but with Surrey hot on their heels after their impressive win at Colwyn Bay. He also admitted that, were it not for the rain that washed out almost an entire day's play, Gloucestershire could have won.
"We have had to battle hard," said Adams. "Gloucestershire have outplayed us for three or so days and we've probably been helped by the weather. We were in a good position on day one but we threw that away really.
"It was only two games ago that we beat Essex pretty comprehensively here. It would also be nice to win the toss at some point and made use of the best conditions but that's probably a bit of an excuse, really. Every game from here on in is going to be tough."
With five games left, Adams has earmarked "two or three wins" to ensure Hampshire are in the promotion places comfortably by the end of the season. Next week's encounter at Colchester will see them without Kyle Abbott who will report for international duty for South Africa in Sri Lanka. He is set to return at the end of August, but is likely to miss the final two games, against Kent and Glamorgan, should he represent his Ram Slam franchise Dolphins in the Champions League.
In his place, Hampshire have announced the signing of Australian bowler Nathan Rimmington. Initially on a match-by-match limited overs contract, he may be enlisted for four-day duty with doubts over the fitness over a couple of bowlers, including David Balcombe who was suffering from a sore knee on the final day of this match.